Pictured: Martin Valdez Arias has been charged in multiple cases of sexual assault in Ventura. Photo submitted by Ventura County District Attorney. 

by Kimberly Rivers

Ventura’s winter plan for the unhoused

Preparations are underway for supporting the unhoused during the colder winter months in Ventura. 

The city of Ventura is partnering with the River Community Church to provide “stay warm packs” and temporary shelter during severe weather events, including rain, wind or very low temperatures. The program will run Dec. 1 through March 31, 2022. 

Donations requested include rain ponchos, blankets, jackets, hand-warmers, socks, toiletries, soft snacks, tarps and burying bags for items. 

The plan also includes providing temporary shelter for up to 20 people in local motel rooms. The plan will be activated at least 48 hours before projected temperatures under 40 degrees or if rain over an inch and a half are expected overnight. The rooms will be prioritized to those 65 and older or those with chronic health conditions, then the rooms will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. To get in the queue for a room, individuals must arrive at River Community Church between 5 and 6 p.m. on the day of the weather event. 

Donations of items can be brought to the River Community Church, 859 E. Santa Clara Street, Ventura. 

Harrison awarded for reducing emissions

Harrison Industries, a trash collection and handling company operating across Ventura County, has achieved 12 years of Climate Registered Gold for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operations. 

The ranking is given by The Climate Registry, a nonprofit organization that monitors emissions and operates greenhouse gas reporting programs globally. The organization is given access to company data to track carbon emissions across operations, identify cuts and track company progress. 

Earlier this year, The Climate Registry rewarded Harrison for surpassing net zero in emissions 21 times.

DA seeking more victims of sexually motivated crimes

On Nov. 3 Erik Nasarenko, Ventura County District Attorney, announced felony charges against Martin Valdez Arias for allegations related to indecent exposure. Arias has been charged related to incidents with more than one victim. 

According to the VCDA, Arias allegedly attacked a woman on a bike path along Highway 126 near Ventura Community Park. According to the charges, Arias rode a silver and black bicycle in the area prior to the alleged attack. He was arrested on Sept. 7, 2021 and charged with false imprisonment by violence and attempted sexual battery. 

Ongoing investigations by the Ventura Police Department and Ventura County Sheriff’s Office found evidence that supported new charges related to an incident on Aug. 30, 2021. At that time Arias allegedly exposed his genitals to a woman who was walking her grandson in the area near Tanager Street and Swift Avenue in Ventura.

The VCDA is investigating whether Arias may have committed other crimes while he was in the area since July 24, 2021. It is believed that he could have spent time in Oxnard and Ojai, in addition to Ventura and the unincorporated area in between those cities. 

Those who may have been victims or witnessed a crime involving a man on a silver and black bicycle, who may or may not have exposed his genitals, are asked to contact District Attorney Supervising Investigator Christopher Borkovec at 805-477-1647. Individuals who may not have been directly victimized but witnessed such conduct are also asked to contact Borkovec. Arias is currently in custody without bail.

Ventura County Community College recognized for excellence

Ventura County Community Colleges are included on a list of 150 community colleges across the country being considered for the 2023 Aspen Prize, an award of $1 million. 

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization working toward a free, just and equitable society and through the Aspen Prize aims to promote higher education practices that improve student learning, completion and employment after college, with a focus on students of color and low income students on American campuses. 

This is the first time that all three campuses — Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura — in Ventura County are eligible at the same time. 

Local press and statewide free speech org argue for release of autopsy reports

In the wake of the tragic 2018 Borderline shooting in Thousand Oaks, an effort to seal autopsy reports of those victims has led to legal action now pending in state appellate court. 

The companies that own the Ventura County Star and the Los Angeles Times along with the Associated Press have filed legal action to overturn an injunction put in place by Ventura County Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh that has indefinitely sealed autopsy reports for the Borderline shooting victims. 

The First Amendment Coalition (FAC) has been joined by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the California News Publishers Association in submitting an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief joining in the argument that privacy concerns do not and should not outweigh the public’s interest and right to access public records, including autopsy records, which have always been subject to California’s Public Records Act. 

At the time of Walsh’s injunction, Assembly Bill 268, authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, was pending in Sacramento. Irwin pulled the bill prior to a vote in the state senate. The bill would have allowed autopsy reports from victims of a criminal act to be sealed if certain additional conditions were met. 

In a letter on the issue from FAC, the organization states, “Autopsy reports have long been subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act. While there are reasons agencies may delay or deny the release of certain information or images, that’s not what happened in the Borderline case. Here, the trial judge blocked access completely and indefinitely, depriving the public of information that could shed light on the government’s actions in an unspeakable tragedy.”

FAC and the other entities arguing that the reports be released point to the importance of understanding what occurred, especially in this case, when it allowed the Los Angeles Times to report that the deputy killed in the incident was hit by a bullet from a California Highway Patrol officer’s gun. 

The amicus brief states, “There is no law that allows Ventura County to refuse to release autopsy records, which are public records disclosable under the California Public Records Act. Indeed, the court below based their injunction on pending legislation, which did not pass.”

Oral arguments are not yet scheduled in the appellate court.